Sunday, April 02, 2017

Middle-class Traditions Featuring Lemon Tree Leaves

- for Stephen Dobyns and Dean Parkins

Adolescent cousins sneak out, smoke
cigars, hukkahs, cigarettes, beedis,
opium sometimes, chillum fumes.
Cousins chew lemon leaves before
returning home. Explain why my uncles,
aunts, (their parents), cousins, neighbors,
never smell a lemon? Why not count
how many leaves vanish each night?

Cousins inherit the trick,
but fathers ignore the nostalgic lemon.
Mothers go on washing kurtas / shirts,
give head massages, hugs and career
advice. Mothers descry each drab stain
but fail as spies in a smoker's domain.
Is it maternal instinct to nurture
ignorance of chewed leaves?

Middle-aged uncles sneak out to savor
scotch, dancing women, rum quaffs,
sacrilegious ham or beef kebabs.
Though their lemons control
their households, the habit
plucks a leaf or two.
Rich don't care, poor brawl,
middle-class avoids confrontation
by swallowing bitter leaves of lemon.

To ward off evil-eye, grandmas
string lemon-chilli necklaces
for cars and all entrances.
Aunts treasure lemon trees,
they occasionally worship.
Lemons – spice up their dishes,
scare away unwelcome spirits,
and add flavor to their kisses.

My dead grandpa's friends
resent guilt and thrills of their young.
I imagine them unzip trousers,
loosen pajama strings with flourish
and tremble with a sly joy as they spray
golden, odorous drops, offered as ablutions
to the life's deceits and to all lemon leaves
that their spiraling, musty jets can reach.


First published in Muse India, 2016

Monday, January 02, 2017

Advice from Saraswati and the Muses

Write what is wrung from your tongue
a blistering song, a howl from your lung,
strum every veena vein muscle string
of your throat and your thumb.

Write with a bite that goes below, to the bone,
to marrow and to moan, to the seed of a seed.
Write to merit a sigh, a smile or a sob
from a granite idol or a brass snob.

Embrace the past, encompass eternal, vast
feelings. Empower -- under the thumb, mum,
conquered -- with hymns. Leave no crumb
unversed. Croon with aplomb.

Invoke immortal ideas, idols, ideals, idioms.
The wise mine for poems in realms forgotten
or uncharted. Seek, master the unknown,
the before and the after of Allah, Yesu, Om.

To celebrate and sing of the light like a skylark,
begin in the dark. Curate a spark within, burn,
transcend the limits of the Brahma and a quark.
Publish. Deserve immortal art.


First published in Muse India, 2016.
Saraswati: The Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, Speech and Music.
(My new year resolution for 2017: publish, publish, publish -- mostly science, also poetry)

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Books Read in 2017

Read in 2017 (26 = 20 + 6; NF 9
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (4): Silence by Shushako Endo [Translated from the Japanese by William Johnston], Rudin by Ivan Turgenev [Translated from the Russian by Richard Freeborn], The Monkey's Wrench by Primo Levi [Translated from the Italian by William Weaver], (The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann [Translated from the German]),

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (6): The Pearl by John Steinbeck, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie, The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, A Painter of Our Time  by John Berger, Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, (The Confidence Man by Herman Melville), 

POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (3): The Poetry of Zen  [Translated from the Japanese and the Chinese by Sam Hill and J. P. Seaton], (Issa's Best: a Translator's Selection of Master Haiku by Kobayashi Issa [Translated from the Japanese by David G. Lanoue]), The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other Poets [Translated from the Japanese and the Chinese by Sam Hill] 

POETRY IN ENGLISH (3): Sweet Ruin by Tony Hoagland, Station Island by Seamus Heaney, (The Long Meadow by Vijay Seshadri)

PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY / HISTORY (2):  (Vasistha's Yoga translated by Swami Venkatesananda), (India by Al-beruni), 

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (2): (Cohesion by Rowlinson), (The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen)
NON-FICTION - OTHER (5): Ways of Seeing by John Berger, (Traction by Gino Wickman), (The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young), A Writer's Nightmare by R. K. Narayan, (The Uncertain Certainty by Charles Simic)

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 1 + Poetry: 0 + Non-fiction: 0)Bhasmavrit Chingari by Yashpal,

Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 0): 

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2015, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

People have a Native Sympathy for Crooks

Double up with laughter, regale the tale,
or play the wit, add eye-popping details,
rejoice at the dolt who trusts the cheats,
marvel at the idioms used for deceits,
they lie to you, never write it in books,
people have a native sympathy for crooks.

Pick any epic, romance, any heroic tale,
entertainment follows a scoundrel's trail.
Be it for jest, or suspense, or raw charm
or to seduce a duchess at a duke's farm,
its him, its his cunning that the world salutes,
people have a native sympathy for crooks.

He often inspires more than a cheeky grin,
a hope in Joe or Jane, who're poor but alive,
who do what they can do, to just survive:
bribe and steal, use every conceit, lie, sin.
All find it titillating to hoodwink the sleuths,
people have a native sympathy for crooks.

Is mischief charming, is it a Freudian thing?
Do joys ensue from an addictive suffering?
Every holy book spends most of it rhymes
in detailing human failings or sinful times.
Why do we prefer wine over fruit juice?  
People have a native sympathy for crooks.

Movie audience bursts with awe or guffaws
as he partakes the best lines, guilty pleasures
throughout the saga, he, the breaker of laws
controls the reins, the keys to all treasures.
Only in the climax, unconvincing he looks,
people have a native sympathy for crooks.

Not Jesus or Buddha, but Krishna, Zeus, Dionysus
proclaimed that the life's sauce is Baronesque.
The crafty seem to win, while the honest wait
for karmic redemption, for delayed gifts, grace.
As they know, in the end, he'll going to loose,
people have a native sympathy for crooks.

(First draft Jan 2014)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day Proposal, 14th February 2013 (by a Romantic Academic)

Darling, on this Valentine's day,
all night and day, I worked on a proposal.
Each word chosen carefully, promise
after promise, crafted with more heart
than Rodin put into his sculptured art.
I worked on a proposal, brought forth
from the deepest recesses in my memory
ideas, idioms, examples that were apt, stark
and phrase after phrase, page after page,
I sung like a lark. Darling, let me sleep now,
if they fund my proposal, I will be at your disposal
the next Valentine's day.

(In honor of the academic owl
who works through the night
without fail, without a scowl).

(Imagined first as a poem from my colleague and friend Randy Ewoldt.He was finalizing his research proposal in a conference hotel, and kept working on it through the night).
14th Feb 2013

Friday, January 01, 2016

Books read in 2016

Read in 2016 (46 = 32 + 14; NF 10
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (6): South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami,  The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco, Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, Fountain and Tomb by Naguib Mahfouz, Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, Life's Good Brother by Nazim Hikmet [translated from Turkish by Mutlu Konuk Blasing],

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (11): Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, 41 Stories by O Henry, Native Son by Richard Wright, Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (2): Selected Poems by Francis Ponge, The Selected Poetry of Ranier Maria Rilke [Translated by Stephen Mitchell], 

POETRY IN ENGLISH (8): A Street of Clocks  by Thomas Lux, Mystery, So Long  by Stephen Dobyns, The Emperor of Water Clocks by Yusef Komunyaka, To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux, Tracer Particles by Allison Joseph, Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Selected Poems by W. B. Yeats,

PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY / HISTORY (5): The Histories by Herodotus (translated by)),   Bhagavad Gita (sermons by Mahatma Gandhi), The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology by Joseph Campbell, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (1): (A History and Philosophy of Fluid Mechanics by G. A. Tokaty)
NON-FICTION - OTHER (4): (I am OK, You are OK by Thomas A. Harris), The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry,  My Kumaon by Jim Corbett, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi,

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 4 + Poetry: 2 + Non-fiction: 1): Jhoota Sach: Desh ka Bhavishya by Yashpal, Talkhiyan by Sahir Ludhianvi, Neem Ka Ped by Rahi Masoon Raza, Meghadoot: Ek Purani Kahani by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Seemayen Toot-ti hain by Shrilal Shukla, Aashad ka Ek Din by Mohan Rakesh, Rashmirathi by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar,

Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 2): Bhagavad Gita by Maharishi Ved Vyas, Meghdoot by Kalidas

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2015, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Favorite reads of the year 2016
1. Life's Good Brother by Nazim Hikmet: The novel set in early twentieth century is similar to Nazim's great work Human Landscapes: multiple characters and stories, knitted together across multiple decades, the narrative goes back and forth in time with relative ease.
2. Native Son by Richard Wright,  
3. Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe,  
4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan  
5. Neon Vernacular by Yusef Komunyakaa,
6. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin 
7. Jhoota Sach: Desh ka Bhavishya by Yashpal, 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Googlies: Conflict of Interest, Selection Puzzles & the Lack of Dashers and Bashers

"Dhoni Stifled By the Lack of Later Dasher in the Team", says Monga, in his latest article on Cricinfo. India lost its match against Australia, and it was too obvious that a lack of big-hitter at number six hurt India's chances. Sadly it seems that this could remain the script for Indian losses in this world cup. I believe the selection of the final fifteen was not made on merit. It did not account for either the recent form or level of experience at this level or even fitness of the players. The backroom politics, big money, IPL scum and scams, petty regional and filial feelings, and the obscure love for bureaucratic mediocrity, all are to blame.

Maybe someone needs to go to the courts, even if it is to the virtual ones, and ask the following questions from Dhoni, selectors, BCCI board, the Sports Ministry and the machinery that punishes tax evaders, rule breakers, etc:

(a) Dhoni and BCCI selectors: why not pick the in-form batman, all rounder, one of the best finisher in the game, Man of the Series in the last world cup? 
For everyone who follows Indian cricket, domestic and international, the very idea that somehow Yuvraj does not make the cut, is quite inexplicable. Maybe as inexplicable as the conflict of interest with a selector father and selected (poor on pitch / poor on paper or POP, POP) son... Yes, we all know. These days, Yuvraj is no selector's Binny, while Stuart Singhs, POP POP is King!

(b) Bring all your calculators, selection metrics, performance cards from all formats of the game, and justify the inclusion of Stuart Binny over a long list of more consistent performers, both with bat and ball. I can easily list Murali Vijay, Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Rishi Dhawan, Ashok Dinda, Manoj Tewari, etc ). Yes yes, I know, we have a bowling all rounder and POP POP can swing!

(c) Can somebody explain to me how Srinivasan and Dhoni navigate through conflict of interest issues? Who is not bothered by the fact that BCCI officials are IPL team owners, and run for profit companies that own IPL teams, and the same IPL teams have players who are their employees on roll on their other companies. Can anyone take charge and act soon to punish the teams, the players and the officials involved in the IPL scam? Prime Minister Sir, here is a perfect example to set for fair play and AAP party, here is a perfect example of a labyrinth in the search of a broom.

(d) What is the criteria for picking selectors and what is the criteria for selection if all the consistent performances in a domestic competition usually go unnoticed and will not get you a call to the national team? How many players in the current team have played their fair share of Ranji trophy and domestic cricket? How many have first class records unmatched by the domestic performers who are consistently overlooked?

Like most of the fans of Indian cricket, I also keep hoping against hope that in spite of all this, the Indian team will prevail. I also hope it will continue to find a string of stellar performances from Sachins, Rahuls, Anils, Sauravs, Jagwals, who thrive in spite of the system. Even for the World Cup in 2015, I have hopes for one or more exceptional performances from that fiery Kohli, focused Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, persevering yet underrated Rahane, workhorse Ashwin, amazing in ODIs, dud in tests Rohit Sharma, and the Indian Cements employees/ Chennai Superkings mascots (Raina, Dhoni, Jadeja). Sometimes all it takes is two great performances in a match, one from a batsman, one from a bowler, to earn the win.

But fairness, transparency, respect for both talent and for trust placed by a billion people, are all a different matter. When will be find a voice as a nation to condemn this endless chain of corruption, so widespread that even catches are dropped or picked, balls left or nicked, based on how much someone somewhere has bet on it! The maze of corruption seems draw everyone in. I wonder how will we ever succeed as a nation without getting out of this  labyrinth?

We will watch it all as it unfolds. Yes, the World Cup 2015, too, we shall watch it as it unfolds. With its dashers and bashers. Mavericks and meritorious. Sons and duds.